Even pets get empty nest syndrome


The thunder roared in the middle of the night, and suddenly I was wide awake. It wasn’t the storm that brought me up out of bed, but my son’s sweet dog, Spanky.
Ever since our son has left for college, both Spanky and our outside farm dog, Channing, have let me know that something is amiss. Cort is not here. They do not like it one bit.
Spanky has been Cort’s sidekick since the day he was born in our home in November 1997. He is a snow-white Pekingese (except for the days he decides to take a venture into the farm pond) with an absolutely charming personality. Everyone who meets Spanky falls in love with the little guy.
Upset. The night of the storm, which brought flooding to this region, I had the sense that Spanky was not only upset about the thunder and lightning, but he was very upset with me. He ran to Cort’s bedroom, then ran back to me, repeatedly. He was trying to tell me that his boy is not where he should be, and he is not one bit happy about it!
Cort has noticed a change in Spanky when he has come home for weekend visits. Spanky runs and greets him, but then tries to act sort of aloof. Staying close, making sure that he can see Cort and Cort can see him, he no longer sits up on his back haunches and begs to be picked up and fussed over.
He stays close, but it is obvious he is giving Cort a bit of a cold shoulder. He seems to be sending the message that he is tough enough to not really need Cort if Cort doesn’t need him.
Channing, our English Shepherd who is now just 1 year old but seems much older and wiser, simply falls all over herself getting to Cort and staying by his side. She feels no shame in letting him know he has been missed.
Interesting. I find it interesting that there are people in this world who seem to think of dogs as dumb animals with no reasoning skills, no personality. Having grown up with dogs and being blessed with them still, I have seen widely ranging reactions from both young puppies and old dogs, and there is no doubt that most of the dogs I have known are much brighter than most people realize.
When Spanky was a young pup, a killdeer nested in our yard. Spanky listened to that mama bird making all sorts of racket, and he was curious. As he drew closer to the nest, the squawking reached a fever pitch. Spanky was wise enough to lie down, keeping a respectable distance.
Within days, the mama killdeer must have seen Spanky as an ally, as she would leave the nest for brief periods of time, allowing Spanky to get closer to see what it was she was protecting.
In time, Spanky was eventually allowed to lie right beside the mama killdeer and her nest. We jokingly said Spanky thought he was the proud papa of those odd-looking baby killdeer!
Spanky went through a bout of disbelief when the nest turned up empty. He went out each morning to check it, lying down beside that empty nest for hours on end.
Empty nest. Now, Cort’s bedroom is the empty nest that has Spanky reeling in disbelief, the spring in his step dimmed – although he would never admit it, even if he could talk.
The morning after the storm, I reached down to scratch Spanky behind the ears and assure him everything was going to be just fine. He lifted his head, turned his back and crawled under the dining room table.
As he turned away, I could swear I heard him say in a huff, “I don’t want to talk about it.”


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.